Many Charged with Unlawful Assembly in Florida for Protesting After George Floyd’s Death
With protests erupting all over the country, including here in Florida, many are being arrested on a daily basis and charged with unlawful assembly and resisting police – a second-degree misdemeanor – in connection with these activities. Several have also had additional charges added on, including battery on a law enforcement officer, criminal mischief, and inciting a riot.
We previously discussed how to draw the line between free speech and crime, but what about the right to protest? The US Constitution protects freedom of association – i.e. the right of the people peaceably to assemble. According to reports of the particular protests where many were arrested from here in Florida, protesters were peacefully protesting against police brutality and arrested after being given orders to disperse from the lawn. In fact, one of those arrested was even a pastor who asked an officer why the peaceful protest was considered unlawful assembly. In addition, there have been reports that these protesters were not only unfairly detained, but brutalized through excessive force and the use of tear gas.
When Does Freedom of Association Turn into Unlawful Assembly?
Florida law defines unlawful assembly as three or more individuals meeting to commit a breach of the peace or any other unlawful act. The definition implies knowledge of intent –i.e. to perform an illegal act. The US Supreme Court has thrown out a number of breach of the peace convictions for protesters who were simply participating in peaceful public demonstrations, but has also drawn the line on those freedoms and allowed for charges once that protesters engage in protesting activities that turn into illegal actions, such as engaging in trespass, assault, or battery, for example.
Excessive, Unaffordable Bail
These same news reports on Florida protesters arrested also indicate that the cost of bail has now gone from $750 to $1,500, to even $5,000 for a number of them, as soon as their families or nonprofit organizations are able to come up with the initial bail amounts set. This is indicative of excessive monetary bail, as Florida law dictates that the purpose of setting bail is to ensure a defendant’s appearance at subsequent proceedings and protect the community from any unreasonable danger. Monetary bail is excessive and unreasonable when it is higher than an amount “reasonably calculated to fulfill the state’s pretrial interests,” i.e. what is necessary to ensure that the accused returns for proceedings. When bail is unaffordable, it becomes pretrial detention, which is arguably unjustified in this case.
Know Your Rights
Around the country and not just in Florida, there is, in general, a significant amount of concern at the moment about what the government has decided to define as unlawful acts, and to what extent it is encroaching on First Amendment rights by labeling individuals in particular ways; for example, as terrorists, in order to deprive them of their civil rights.
If you are attending a protest, know the following:
- Your right to assemble is strongest on public property—plazas, parks, streets, sidewalks, etc.– as long as you are not interfering with the property, such as blocking access
- When you are legally in a public area, you have the right to take pictures of anything in plain view
- Private property owners can set rules for expression of speech on their property, including the right to take pictures and videos
- If a protest involves blocking traffic, street closures, large rallies, etc., a permit may be required
- If you believe that your rights have been violated, treat the circumstances as you would an auto accident and document everything: The officer’s information, contact information for witnesses, take pictures, etc.
If You Are Facing Unlawful Assembly or Related Charges, Contact The Best in Florida Criminal Defense Representation
If you are facing charges for unlawful assembly, or related charges, you need to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately to aggressively defend your rights.
At The Baez Law Firm, our Orlando criminal defense attorneys are eager to assist you. We are ready to ensure that justice is done and you are not charged and found guilty for simply exercising your civil rights. Contact us today for a free consultation to find out more.